All humane things are subject to decay; And, when Fate summons, Monarchs must obey

Mac Flecknoe



Reference to context

All humane things are subject to decay And, when Fate summons, Monarchs must obey





These two lines are taken from Mac Flecknoe (written ca. 1678, published in 1682).


Mac Flecknoe, a verse mock-heroic satire by John Dryden (1631-1700), is a direct attack on Thomas Shadwell (1642-1692), another prominent poet of the time, who is appointed the heir to a kingdom of poetic dullness.


In these opening lines of the poem, the poet creates an epic atmosphere which makes its reader feel as it is a grand poem about Gods and Kings. All human beings are mortal and are subject to die or decay. When time comes, even great monarchs and kings have to obey the order and accept their death. The lines can be meant to detail the fact that all of mankind will, at one time or another, succumb to death ("subject to decay"). The reference to fate (something unavoidable) details the fact that death is, naturally, unavoidable.


The quote refers to the fact that no one, not even monarchs, can stop death when it comes. Dryden also mentions monarchs in the lines. This reference is important given that they (monarchs) were seen as being the most powerful at the time of the text's writing. That being said, even monarchs did not have the power to stop death. Outside of the human aspect of death, Dryden is also referring to not only humans, but all "human things." Human things refer to those items which were created by humans (which means both life, through birth, and all man-made objects). Therefore, Dryden is basically saying that all things on earth, created by man, will fall to decay. The only things which will not fall to decay are those things not created by man.

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